OPINION – I must admit, I was very surprised when I first heard MSNBC’s recent promotion where its host, Melissa Harris-Perry, said:
We have never invested as much in public education as we should have, because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children. So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s then we start making better investments.
Turns out I initially heard it, not as an MSNBC promotion but as part of a segment in another show in which it was immediately followed by opinion and assumptions. I got lucky. I first heard the promotion itself – that is, I heard it before the assumptions and opinions were given by the hosts about what they thought Harris-Perry meant.
I think the thing that surprised me the most, and maybe it shouldn’t have, is the fact that the hosts on this radio show just assumed that, of all the possible meanings and intents of this promotion, the worst possible meaning was the intended one – and they dwelt on it. That is, they inferred that Harris-Perry was suggesting parents don’t need to worry about their kids because they aren’t their kids. In other words, the responsibility for their kids doesn’t lie on them, the parents, but on the community.
Now, if Harris-Perry really was trying to imply that we should not feel responsiblity towards our own kids because they “belong to whole communities,” as many have suggested, then of course she’s wrong. But I had to wonder if that was her intended message.
If you read my column a few weeks ago, “Getting the bias out of ourselves,” you’ll know that I work very hard to get the full story on an issue in my attempt to increase the likelihood that my conclusion is correct.
So, after hearing the hosts go on about how Harris-Perry is trying to destroy families, I could see how they got that idea if she is addressing me as a parent to tell me that the community should be helping me raise my children – and assuming I buy off on that – then I’m likely to shirk my responsibility because “it’s really the community’s responsibility.” But, there are actually two other possible meanings behind her words.
If you look at just her first and last statements, it appears that she’s really advocating an increase in spending on education, a topic which I’d like to address in a future column.
And if you look at what she said as addressing “the community,” in other words, everyone except the parents, then her message is actually a message to us, the community, to not ignore the children around us; a message that we must not think other children couldn’t possibly need any help from us because they belong to their parents and their family. While it may be true that most other children have parents and a family, we should also feel a responsibility towards them, to help them in any way we can.
This used to be considered more frequently than it is now. As we have turned into a more introverted society, we keep to ourselves more and associate with our neighbors less and, therefore, we’ve come to feel less responsibility to be of help to our neighbors.
In Luke 10:27-37, we learn not only that we have a responsibility to love our neighbor as ourself, but we also learn that Jesus defined neighbor very loosely. In other words, as used in this scripture, neighbor applies to a wide variety of people.
There are many ways that we can take responsibility in this manner, for children in our community, for our neighbor.
I know a lot of people that volunteer in various youth programs. Many people have recently taken responsibility for children broadly by voicing their opinion on policy changes the Federal Communications Commission may consider, which could allow even more indecent and inappropriate content to be shown on broadcast TV.
My family was on the receiving end of people taking responsibility for another’s child this week when, in Provo, hundreds of people showed up to help my cousin search for her missing daughter. Many of those people don’t know my cousin or her daughter, but they heard about what happened and instead of blaming her parents or her school they went out and helped look for her.
In order to “love our neighbor as ourself,” we must be willing to take responsibility to help others whenever we can, just as did the “good Samaritan.”
On the other hand, Proverbs 22:6 says, “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In other words, we, as parents, need to step up and take responsibility and teach our children what is right and get them going on a good path in life.
Training up your child in the way he should go is not a hands-off activity. It requires work, effort, and time. It is our responsibility to give all the work, effort and time that is required. That is our primary responsibility.
Leo Wright is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his own and not representative of St. George News.
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